Mini-intestines being used for the growth of norovirus

 By Dr Myra Hosmillo, Cambridge University

Human norovirus is the leading viral gastrointestinal pathogen worldwide causing diarrhoea and vomiting, known as the “two-bucket disease”. It is highly contagious and it only takes as few as 18 viral particles to infect another person. While norovirus infection is usually acute and self-limiting, in children and immunocompromised patients, the disease can be chronic which can last from days and months. Despite these, there is still no available vaccine or drugs to prevent or cure norovirus infection. For over 40 years since its discovery in 1972, studying the biology of human norovirus had been challenging because of our inability to grow the virus in the laboratory.  September 2016, human norovirus was first successfully cultured using a stem-cell derived three-dimensional (3D) organoid system. Organoids or enteroids are mini-organs that can be grown in the laboratory that resemble tissues from the body. They can be generated using cells from the eye, gut, liver, kidney, pancreas, prostate, lung, breast and intestine. Organoids are good model for studying infectious diseases including noroviruses.  The discovery of organoid culture system is a major step forward for the study of human norovirus and in developing drugs to prevent and treat norovirus infection. We have established the organoid culture system for norovirus, here in Cambridge. We will use it as part of the VIRAQUA project to examine norovirus persistence in the environment.